Let’s face it, we all have a burning need to be liked and respected. We want people to think of us as smart and sophisticated. In fact, our need for admiration is so powerful it can drive almost everything we do. We want our kids, co-workers, friends and strangers all to think of us as awesome people. Frankly, there is nothing wrong with this. Being a nice person is one of the most important things any of us can be. The problem is that this innate need for approval can also hold us back, in a big way. And, here is the kicker, the more comfortable we get, the less we are willing to put our acceptance at risk.
I have had the privilege of spending a lot of time with some really successful people in the last few years, and I mean really successful. The type of people who books are written about. I put them into two categories. The first are those who won the lottery. They hit the jackpot in their field and they live off of that one claim to fame for the rest of their lives. The second group is what I call compulsively successful people. Compulsively successful people tend to have a few things in common, they think big and they go after what they want with impunity – and they don’t really care what people think of them. These are the people in whom I am most interested. They achieve success and they just keep going after it, again and again. And the thing that really makes them different, is that even after they have achieved a high degree of success; they are still willing to put themselves out there and risk losing the admiration that they worked so hard to achieve. It’s extraordinary.
When we are young, we are much more willing to take chances; to risk being a little embarrassed in order to get a high-paying job or make a big sale, but as we get older that risk tolerance tends to get smaller. For most people, once they achieve a little success, they spend the rest of their life protecting it. I’m not saying they quit working, but they are much more measured, and being admired becomes much more important than almost anything else.
Compulsively successful people aren’t that way. They are almost pathological, and are unafraid of rejection or pissing someone off. They achieve one success and they parlay it into something else, usually something much bigger. Now, this may sound easier than it is. If you ask most people if they are willing to work hard and even embarrass themselves if that is what it takes to be wildly successful, they will say “sure”. But that is not exactly how it works. Let’s say you started a business and a few years later, you sold it for a few million dollars. You are set financially. You get asked to speak at events, you have successful friends and you are admired. Do you start another business with a vision that is 100 times larger than your last venture? Are you willing to ask your successful friends to support your new business and risk losing them? As a “successful” person are you willing to get doors slammed in your face and be humiliated like you were when you were young? This may sound like an exceptional situation, but most of us who have achieved some level of success encounter some version of these questions in our lives.
Very few people win the lottery. Most who achieve extraordinary success do it in a very unglamorous way. They work hard, achieve some success and keep upping the ante, consuming their goodwill and relationship-capital until they fail spectacularly or are playing in a much bigger game. They are frequently called “delusional”, “crazy”, or “detached from reality”. Trust me, I’ve seen it. Is your need for acceptance, and fear of being thought of as “delusional” keeping you from taking your business or aspirations to the next level? Think about it. This past week, I put myself out there more than I have in a while, and was called more nasty things than any time in my life. It made me think…I must be doing something right.
Over the last few weeks, I have had the opportunity to speak at the T3 Conference in Florida…I surprised the audience when I explained how the issue of diversity has been framed incorrectly, and has for the most part alienated the business community.
Elon Musk dropped by the Real Time with Bill Maher show recently for an interview with the host. Maher, who considers himself a liberal is an obvious fan of the CEO of Tesla and Space X. The centerpiece of their conversation was their discussion regarding what Musk called the “woke mind virus” or what I prefer to call “cancel culture”.
People sometimes get me wrong. They think that because I talk a lot about giving back and living modestly, I must not care about money. On the contrary, I care a lot about money because I understand how our system works.